Yemeni women and children’s health at risk as UN funds dry up


As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads in Yemen, funding for the United Nations Population Fund’s life-saving reproductive health services has dried up and forcing the agency to suspend the provision of reproductive healthcare for women and girls in the poverty-stricken country.

The United Nations Population Fund, formerly United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), is the sole provider of life-saving reproductive health medicines and supplies for women and girls in Yemen.

Out of the 180 health facilities that UNFPA operates, 140 had to be closed and the 40 that remains open are all that is left serving the entire country which have already resulted in tragic consequences.

A war widow named Mariam, had been receiving antenatal care at the UNFPA-supported Bani Shamakh health centre – the only health centre in the district. But when she arrived with heavy bleeding last week, she found that maternal services had ceased, and the doctor had left. Mariam subsequently haemorrhaged to death.

In another incident, a woman named Zainab died of post-partum bleeding after delivering a daughter, Safiya. The hospital she was planning to use, had lost its gynaecologist due to the funding shortage, leaving Zainab to give birth at home, without help when complications arose.

Current and former health facility staffs say they are heartbroken and felt powerless about the whole situation.

Adel Shuja’a, a nurse at the Bani Shamakh centre says all the maternal care – from iron and folic acid supplements to management of obstetric emergencies – has stopped.

“We are in this poor community that is exhausted from war. The suffering of poor families has increased, and we may lose many of our mothers and children,” he said.

Last year, UNFPA reached more than 3.5 million women and girls with reproductive health and protection services, providing support to 260 health facilities and 3,800 reproductive health workers. But as funding has run out, these programmes have been scaled back or shut down.

At the beginning of 2020, UNFPA appealed for US$100.5 million for its humanitarian response in Yemen; to date, only 41% of that has been mobilized. An additional US$24 million is needed for the COVID-19 response.

If no funding materializes by July, UNFPA will be forced to close up to 90% of its life-saving reproductive services across the country.

The funding had been a game-changer, said one midwife from Al Shahel Rural Hospital. “We were able to have reproductive health medicines, a midwife and a female doctor. The health facility never had a midwife or a female doctor before. It was a big turning point for our village”, she described. “We were serving more than 23,000 people, but unfortunately the support has now stopped.”

The hospital had received up to 120 cases per day, she said. “But now, after suspending the services, we are unable to provide the most basic treatment.”

The long-term costs could be staggering: It is estimated that two million women and girls of childbearing age could be at risk due to the loss of reproductive services. Some 48,000 women could die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

“We are now in a life-or-death situation. Women and girls will die if we do not provide critical reproductive health services. We can only do so if funding becomes available”, said Nestor Owomuhangi, UNFPA’s acting representative in Yemen.

A virtual pledging conference, co-hosted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Nations, is taking place on June 02. (Source: UN News)